Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina

Many things just don’t change much in Rome.

Just up Via del Corso from us is a lovely, understated piazza. Above is a photo from today; below is what it looked like in 1756. There’s barely any difference.

Guiseppe Vasi engraving, 1756

I come here periodically come here for the very nice light fixture stores nearby who I need some of the difficult-to-find light bulbs (please don’t get me started on the effort it often takes to find the right light bulb in Rome.)

The piazza is named after the ancient church dominating it, San Lorenzo in Lucina. The church dates from the 4th century, and is dedicated to Saint Lawrence, who met a grisly end. Essentially, he was roasted to death. In what I consider an ecclesiatical wit for of irony, he’s now the patron saint of cooks.

Indeed, the church is said to contain a reliquary containing part of the gridiron in which St. Lawrence was, um, rotisseried.

The “Lucina” in the name may refer to a wealthy Roman woman who donated the land on which the church is built. It may also be a reference to a temple dedicated to the goddess Juno. It’s a simple but attractive church, with a Romanesque bell tower off to one side.

The venerable old church, a minor basilica

The church’s gilded coffered ceiling is particularly attractive.

The interior of San Lorenzo in Lucina

The high altar has a painting of Christ on the Cross by the notable artist Guido Reni, surrounded by black marble columns.

The high altar

But there’s more to this church than initially meets the eye.

The great Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who I’ve written about manymany times, designed the fourth chapel on the right for the Portuguese physician Gabriele Fonseca, who was doctor to Pope Innocent X (1644-55). There’s a charming marble bust by Bernini of Dr. Fonseca: he leans out of his picture frame as if to engage with the passer-by. I imagine the dottore was a sociable kind of guy.

Bernini’s engaging statue

But, that’s not all. This little church holds additional, little known gems. Just head down to the basement, where you can visit the remains of ancient Roman houses.

There’s still more.  If you get really lucky, a kindly priest might take you behind the high altar and push a secret panel which springs open to reveal the marble throne of Pope Paschall II (1099-1118).

Such are the wonders of what appears to be an ordinary church in the Eternal City. On a recent visit, I also saw a charming scene, of two gentlemen sitting next to a statue in the church’s portico.

Two men and a statue

The piazza itself holds additional charms. There is a pretty, and well maintained, Madonnella near the church.

The Madonnella at Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina

Across from the church is a giant Louis Vuitton store.  It’s luminous inside — well worth a look. The store re-purposed a cinema (according to their website, the first cinema in Rome) that used to inhabit the space. It’s a very cool touch that the fashion house kept a small cinema in the store. And I appreciate both the bright, modern interior design as well as the tribute to the building’s past. More on this in an upcoming post.

Also at the piazza are several cafe bars. The pleasant din and humble architecture here make it a joy to sit outside, enjoying an ice-cream, a coffee, or an aperitivo, and watching the world go by.

Al fresco at Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina

We sat at Vitti once, and enjoyed an ice cream drowned in espresso and rum, otherwise known as an affogato al liquore — yum!

Our ice cream treat